In 1997, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones starred in the science fiction/comedy film Men in Black. The movie was based loosely on the Marvel Comics property of the same name, which itself was based on the legend of the Men in Black, government agents tasked with keeping the public oblivious of the existence of aliens. The film was followed by two sequels that, according to fans, never quite recreated the magic of the original. But that won’t stop Sony Pictures from trying to continue it. Now, the series explores a different branch of the organization in Men in Black: International.
Now that Agent K and Agent J are out of the picture, we turn our focus to Molly Wright (Tessa Thompson), who witnessed her parents being confronted by the Men in Black, and has spent most of her life searching for them. She is recruited as Agent M, and is sent to London under the supervision of High T (Liam Neeson). Though she is only on a probationary period, and not technically a real agent, she wishes to do more.
And she might just get that chance. When MIB London’s most revered operative, Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) discovers evidence of a possible attack from a threat known as The Hive, he recruits M to tag along as his backup. However, the two soon learn that they can’t work alone to stop The Hive, and must set aside their differences when they also discover that there may be a traitor within MIB, one that could threaten the existence of both human and alien kind.
Though the original Men in Black is slowly gaining a reputation as a classic, the sequels are not held in a similar regard. Men in Black 2 and 3 are mostly known for being retreads of the original’s plot, with humor that doesn’t land and characters that no one really remembers. The two sequels never were able to win audiences over, so it’s easy to say that expectations were not that high for this new film, especially since Smith and Jones aren’t back.
And it’s easy to gather from this attempt at a franchise expansion that it seems as if the studio doesn’t even care about the series any more. Men in Black: International drowns any potential it has in a story that seems content to mimic established plot points despite their obvious attempts to introduce something new to the series. The funny thing is that it adheres to American traditions so much, that it feels like the “International” aspect of the film is never fully realized.
It’s obvious choice the reason why Hemsworth and Thompson were cast in the lead roles is because everyone loved them in Thor: Ragnorok. They figured if they needed to replace Smith and Jones, they should do it with two actors that they know work well together. However, this means that almost the entire film is built around them. The jokes they use are always harkening back to their past films, most notably Hemsworth’s constant references to Thor. This restrains the actors, and prevents them from playing more than bland, hollow shells of their past roles.
Chris Hemsworth seems like a great choice for something like this. He has proven himself to be able to be both serious and funny when needed. However, in this film, he isn’t given much of anything to do. Despite being played up in the trailers, he really only plays second banana to Thompson. There’s a good portion of the film where he’s confined to the back, only there to be the comic relief while Tessa stumbles through the film.
Surely Thompson seems up to the task of helming a film like this. The only problem; she’s not quite capable of it. Her character spends the whole film gloating about her status, and how she was the only person to ever find MIB and join. As if that wasn’t enough to make her a bit irritating, her performance indicates that she really feels that way. Her personality reads, “Look at me, I’m the star of this big franchise now.” It’s hard to root for someone who constantly thinks she the only important player in the mission.
The story and the humor are the biggest elements that ultimately drag the film down. The story seems content to follow the basic formula that the original three films established and then repeated. It doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel, which in this case is a bad thing. The story becomes very predictable, and its major twists can be figured out very early on. By the end, nothing the film dishes out is all that surprising.
Good humor is something that is very hard to come by, especially these days. It’s hard to really figure out what’s going to make people laugh, and how to tell the joke so it turns out funny in the end. This film manages to fail on both ends. Most of its jokes are poorly written, while its best jokes are poorly delivered by the actors. There may be a few light chuckles now and then, but nothing that’s really going to tickle your funny bone.
Men in Black: International is a franchise expander and nothing else, and it’s a pretty sorry excuse for one too. It waists its potential on a story that treads familiar territory, two bland characters played by underutilized actors, and humor that never quite sticks the landing. Despite what the concept might suggest, there really isn’t a lot of potential in this story, and this film is more than enough proof that this series has long overstayed its welcome.